As a college-age environmental activist, I’ve always felt a divide between the Green movement of my parents’ generation and that of my own. Celebrating Earth Day each April is almost an afterthought for the environmental student group at American University, though in 1970, it singlehandedly defined a movement and a generation. Going to Sierra Club meetings with my parents is always a little alien to me as well – the older, affluent, white attendees couldn’t look more different from the young people (from increasingly diverse backgrounds) that I see at protests in Washington, DC.

With this knowledge, it’s all too easy to forget that I’m asking many of the same questions and fighting many of the same battles today that my parents did 40 years ago.

Two weeks ago, I joined twelve other members of Eco-Sense, American University’s environmental sustainability group, at a screening of Earth Days. This new documentary looks back at the roots of the Green movement, using exclusive footage and interviews with America’s legendary movers and shakers to trace its evolution through the decades. From Rachel Carson, the first Dirty Dozen, and the ground-breaking 1970 Earth Day, you witness the development of a radical movement that has finally—for better or for worse—become mainstream.

Perhaps the most powerful message of the film is that change cannot come from a movement that is partisan, polarized, and exclusive. Wealthy and poor, Democrat and Republican, developed nation and developing nation, and black, white, and brown need to once again recognize their common interests in the Green movement. After all, the first definitive pieces of environmental legislation in the US—the Clean Air and Water Acts and the Endangered Species Act—were products of a bipartisan effort for change in the 1970s, largely forwarded by Richard Nixon.

The Green movement has certainly lost ground in recent years, but depolarizing environmentalism offers a fresh opportunity for progress. Living in a safe and healthy environment is a human right, after all, and not an issue for liberals alone. Climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts are in the interest of everyone, and should be a political priority for any Congress, any administration, and any UNFCCC conference.

Before leaving the theater, my group got into a conversation with some of the Baby Boomers in the crowd.  They enjoyed the opportunity to reminisce about the early days of the Green movement and chuckle about being labeled “radicals.” We students enjoyed the chance to share our own hopes and goals for the movement, from the UNFCCC conference in Copenhagen in December, to climate adaptation funding for the developed world, to the signing of a truly progressive climate and energy bill this fall. For me, Earth Days was a film that brought our common interests into much-needed focus. I might even attend my parents’ Sierra Club meetings with a more open mind this Christmas.

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